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Airdrie Festival of Lights kicks of 24th season

The Airdrie Festival of Lights will once again brighten visitors' nights throughout the holiday season. File Photo/Rocky View Publishing

One of Airdrie’s signature annual events returned Dec. 1 to once again brighten the holidays.

“The Airdrie Festival of Lights (AFOL) is Airdrie’s longest running event,” said Michelle Pirzek, co-ordinator. “We’ve been in operation for 24 seasons now.”

AFOL will run nightly at Nose Creek Regional Park from 6 to 9 p.m. until Dec. 31. According to Pirzek, approximately 1,000 people attended the opening night, which featured a henna artist, activities for kids and a visit from Santa Claus.

The festival has become a sort of tourist attraction, Pirzek said, with close to 64,000 guests attending in 2018. Visitors come from not only Airdrie, but also places like High River, Okotoks, Drumheller, Red Deer, Edmonton, Grand Prairie and even as far away as Australia and South America, she said.

The highlight is the festival’s brightly lit holiday displays. The exact number of lights used in the displays was not known, Pirzek said, some displays utilize as few as 50 bulbs and some have more than 4,000.

“I know that seems vague; there’s a lot of displays,” Pirzek said. “When you start getting into those high numbers and closer to opening, it’s ‘Let’s just get them done and get them up.’”

After a 2018 rewiring project, AFOL uses 100 per cent LED lights and, follow the addition of 18 new displays last season, this year’s displays are unchanged. However, there are additions to the festival that may not be noticed by guests, but will enhance their visit and aid in the operation, Pirzek said – a new volunteer trailer, a side-by-side with a snowplow and an updated website are among the changes.

“People may not see a whole lot new, but I guarantee we’re running even more efficient than we have,” she said.

Several activities – including $2 train rides; a concession offering hot chocolate, apple cider, coffee and bottled water; fire pits where marshmallow roasting is encouraged and the Kids Only Shopping Experience – are offered on a nightly basis, weather-permitting.

“When I say weather-permitting I mean the lights are always on [but] certain activities may be affected if temperatures get below -25 C,” Pirzek said. “We don’t ask our volunteers to be in the park when it gets that cold.”

AFOL also has a full events calendar throughout December, with many schools, choirs and performance groups on-site at various times throughout the festival's run. Some highlights, Pirzek said, include the eighth annual Great Airdrie Train Race on Dec. 19, a visit from Santa’s Reindeer Dec. 22, and weekly visits from Saint Nick himself. A full list of events can be found at

“We encourage people to come,” Pirzek said. “Even if you think you’ve seen it before, come see us again, come see what’s new, because it’s ever-evolving. It’s a different experience every time and there literally is something for everyone.”

AFOL is intended as a family- and budget-friendly offering, and both parking and admission to the park is free-of-charge – though a donation of $10 per family is recommended.

“We’re proud that we’re able to offer that affordable, family-friendly venue, regardless of income,” Pirzek said.

However, she said, donations are necessary to ensure the lights stay on.

Pirzek also emphasized AFOL no longer accepts donations for the Airdrie Food Bank – the “biggest misconception” about the event, she said. While the festival had in the past collected food items, it hasn’t accepted food bank donations for more than 15 years.

“We just don’t have resources to collect food,” she said. “We don’t have conditions to keep the food warm [or] to store it safely.”

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